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Things to do in Istanbul

Catch a Whirling Dervishes performance

Hodjapasha Cultural Center showcases delightful Whirling Dervishes performing a religious dance called the sema, which represents one's spiritual journey to achieve love and wisdom.

Discover Street Art

Istanbul is awash with some of the world's most astounding graffiti, but in a bustling city of 15 million people you need to know where to look. Put aside an afternoon and lose yourself in a self-guided tour of the city’s most impressive street art. Simply download the 'Streetart Istanbul' app (www.streetart-istanbul.com) and discover a wealth of information about routes, neighbourhoods and artists.

Feel the sand between your toes

Few would wish to risk the murky waters of the Bosphorus around Istanbul, but 30 minutes from the city is the Kilyos beach on the Black Sea. There are even better sandy beaches on Avsa, one of the Marmara Islands, around 100km (62 miles) southwest of the city in the Sea of Marmara, accessible by ferry from Istanbul.

Go skiing…yes really

Approximately 2 hours from Istanbul is Uludag National Park, which becomes a busy winter sports resort between mid-January and mid-March. It offers a choice of slopes accessed by lifts, along with around 30 places to stay, ranging from upmarket lodges to affordable backpacker hostels. Backpacker Travel (www.backpackerstravel.net) offers a number of one-day or overnight winter sports trips.

Visit the Basilica Cistern

Built during the 6th century, this cistern was constructed using 336 columns and originally conceived to service the Great Palace and its surrounding buildings. Now it is a lovingly restored testament to the Byzantine era. As you traverse its tunnels, you’ll feel water dripping on your head and see schools of fish marauding through its waters.

Visit the Prince Islands

Located southeast of Istanbul are the Prince Islands, a mainly car-free peaceful haven for those who welcome a relief from the buzz of the city. Each island offers its own charms, with many flocking to Heybeliada for its natural and picturesque scenery. Büyükada, the largest island, boasts an assortment of authentic and delicious foods, while Kınalıada’s blue Ayazma Cove offers visitors spectacular views over crystal clear waters.

Only four of the nine islands – Büyükada, Heybeliada, Kınalıada and Burgazada – are open to the public and are accessible by ferry.

A digital image at https://illuminoto.com

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Featured Hotels

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Hotel Empress Zoe

Quirky folk art touches, Central Asian textiles as bedspreads and the odd antique give the Empress Zoe’s rooms plenty of quirky appeal. Set within a row of Ottoman era mansions, with a lush garden and a rooftop terrace with views over Sultanahmet’s Byzantine period walls, this hotel brims with character.

Ottoman Hotel Imperial

A stone's throw from the Aya Sofya, this rather grand 19th century building once served as a hospital and school before being transformed into a hotel. The common areas here are full of elegant Ottoman character and the gardens and terraces provide tranquil respites from the city.

Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah

Everyone from Agatha Christie to Ernest Hemingway once stayed at this iconic Istanbul hotel, open since 1892. Rooms are a slice of old-world elegance, afternoon tea under the chandeliers in the lounge will transport you back in time, while the pool and spa provide ample 21st century updates.

Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet

Understated luxury is the keynote here, and it's hard to believe that this century-old building was once an infamous prison. Each of the 65 rooms is classically designed with Turkish textiles and art adding eye catching details. The rooftop terrace and large, leafy courtyard are relaxing city retreats.

Grand Hotel de Londres (Buyuk Londra Hotel)

With a history dating back to the heydays of the Orient Express, this establishment has seen many writers (Hemingway being one of them), artists and actors step through its doors. Though the hotel has had many rounds of renovations over the years, the 1900s atmosphere is still very much palpable and underlined by the dark wooden interior and velvet drapes. It's also within walking distance to Taksim square, and near to many theatres and restaurants.

Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul

Right on the Bosphorus Strait's shoreline and partly housed in a former Ottoman palace, the Kempinski boasts some of the most opulent rooms in Istanbul. The waterfront pool terrace offers unparalleled Bosphorus views while the bar, restaurants and spa offer plenty of opportunity to swaddle yourself in luxury.